Cheltenham Town: A Dagger in the heart to hopes of going up?
IF CHELTENHAM Town turn in many more performances like this between now and the end of the season they will not win promotion, it is as simple as that.
They were outfought and outplayed by Dagenham and Redbridge, who thoroughly deserved their first Football League victory over the Robins.
It could have been worse had it not been for another outstanding performance from Scott Brown.
The goalkeeper made his second penalty save of the season, but it was even better than the one he made against Barnet at Whaddon Road in November.
He made several other fine stops, but he could do nothing about Luke Howell's 58th minute winner.
Having picked an almost unchanged team for the last three matches in a 4-4-2 formation, boss Mark Yates is likely to revert back to three central midfielders at Southend United tomorrow night.
Among those pressing for starts will be Marlon Pack and Byron Harrison, who both made positive impressions after joining the action in the second half at Dagenham.
Pack made his first appearance since almost joining Swindon Town on transfer deadline day and he immediately showed why it would be a major bonus is Yates could retain his services until the end of the season at least.
Harrison caused Dagenham more problems than Paul Benson and Shaun Harrad managed, but in the front pair's defence, the service to them was not particularly helpful.
All too often Cheltenham resorted to hopeful punts and central defenders Scott Doe and Luke Wilkinson were well on top in the physical battle.
Former Daggers hero Benson, who was given a warm welcome back by the home fans, struggled to make an impact and nothing he tried came off, but it was not through lack of trying.
Wide men Jermaine McGlashan and Kaid Mohamed were kept particularly quiet and the only time Chris Lewington was called into action was in the fourth minute.
He parried a shot from Harrad and from then on he was largely untroubled, in stark contrast to last season when he conceded twice and was sent off before half-time in Cheltenham's 5-0 triumph.
Brown made the first of his excellent interventions in the 33rd minute after the impressive Matt Saunders crosses for Ben Strevens, who directed a firm header towards the bottom left corner, but Brown reacted quickly to reach and turn it to safety.
Dagenham put together the best move of the half three minutes later when Strevens' flick found Saunders and he set up Sam Williams, but the final shot was wide of the near post.
Michael Hector once again looked good in the first half, but he was prone to the odd lapse in concentration, which is exactly why Reading have sent him out to gain experience.
When he brings the ball out it is a useful weapon for Cheltenham and he is certainly more comfortable in possession than your average League Two defender.
But he must know when to keep things simple and one attempt to be too pretty cost Cheltenham eight minutes into the second half.
His pass to Jason Taylor put the midfielder under immediate pressure from Abu Ogogo, who was a major presence in the middle of the pitch for Dagenham.
Taylor should have done better, but he lost out and Williams had a shooting chance, instead opting to tee up Howell, who calmly curled the ball past Brown from near the penalty spot.
Two minutes later Harrison went down in the penalty area, but nothing was given and in the 68th minute Dagenham had a spot kick of their own.
Saunders picked up the ball at speed and ran at a static Steve Elliott, who unceremoniously brought him down and there could be no complaints about referee Darren Drysdale's decision.
Williams stepped up and sent his penalty towards the bottom left corner, but Brown made a terrific stop to keep Cheltenham in the game.
He made another one-on-one block from Williams in the 73rd minute as Dagenham looked the more likely scorers of a second goal.
Elliott made two brave blocks in quick succession from Oluwafemi Ilesanmi and Strevens and Cheltenham did mount a late push, showing more cohesion in the last five minutes than they had in the previous 85.
Benson lifted an effort onto the roof of the net and Brown went forward for a late corner, reaching a second cross after Billy Jones' initial delivery had been half cleared.
It almost fell for Harrison, but Lewington was not called into action and the final whistle blew on a performance far from acceptable for a team with aspirations of League One football next year.
Dagenham and Redbridge: C Lewington; G Hoyte, S Doe, L Wilkinson, O Ilesanmi; M Saunders, A Ogogo, L Howell, M Elito; B Strevens, S Williams (B Woodall 82). Subs not used: J Seabright, J Reed, K Maher, J Caprice, B Bingham, G Gracco.
Cheltenham Town: S Brown; K Lowe, M Hector, S Elliott, B Jones; J McGlashan (D Carter 53), J Taylor, R Penn (M Pack 79), K Mohamed; S Harrad (B Harrison 53), P Benson. Subs not used: C Roberts, S Deering, D Duffy, S Jombati.
Referee: D Drysdale.
Attendance: 1,526 (186 away).
Star Man: Scott Brown.